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White Decals, Part 2


Well, I know this is hard to see, but that’s part of the problem If we had white lettering on a white background, it should be invisible, but it’s not.

Where the embossing powder is thin enough to reveal print detail, it’s thin enough the black ink shines through. Where it’s thick enough to be opaque, it clumps together to obliterate the lettering. It’s tough to get even coverage of the embossing powder. There are places on the decal that there’s embossing powder where there was no ink that I thought the heat gun would blow off.

The Testors decal film reminds me of Champ decals: very thick.

Time to regroup. Investigate refining the method and materials, and talk to others who’ve been successful. There are other options noted in Part 1 I need to investigate. There’s a clinic at next weekend’s Prototype Rails on printing white decals with a laser printer that I hope to learn more.

The artwork took me a long time to create. More than I bargained for, but I won’t give up and let it go to waste!

White Decals, Part 1

I have a couple of projects where I need to print my own decals. A particular problem with printing decals is how to print white? Most printers don’t print white. They rely on the white of the paper. But if you’re printing on something that isn’t white, like clear decal film, the vast array of printers out there gets reduced to a handful.

By far the most popular printer for modelers seeking to print decals are the ALPS Micro Dry series of printers. Introduced in 1996 or 1997 (the MD-1000 manual is copyright January 1997, although Systems Consulting claims to be an ALPS supplier since 1996), the Micro Dry series was unique in that it deposited wax pigment on the paper, rather than ink dyes or pigment. Producing photo-realistic output (early models boasted 300 dpi, the same as most commercial print labs, while later models boasted 600 dpi output), the printer further distinguished itself with the ability to print “spot colors.”

The ability to print “spot colors” added the ability to print white and metalic colors (silver and gold) – something no other consumer printer could do at the time. The benefit to modelers was that white could be printed on the clear decal film, both to print white, and to give better print density. For instance, a clear decal film printed with yellow ink will look very dark on a dark background, and the color will shift toward the hue of the underlying color (i.e. Box Car Red). The ability to first print white, and then the color desired gave the ability to print truly opaque decals, rather than ones that were translucent.

But in 2000, facing competition from Epson, Canon, and other printer manufacturers of inkjet printers, ALPS decided to withdraw from the retail printer market. Some printers continued to be available in Japan, and several companies (Kodak, OKI-Data, Citizen, Roland, Powis, and possibly others) had ALPS build printers under their name. In March 2007, ALPS finally shut down production of both printers and supplies (including the coveted white cartridges).

With limited supplies, prices for remaining stock continue to escalate, as do the value of used printers (even though there are very few repair options). There are other problems. For many years, you could only operate these printers on Macintosh or Windows computers using Windows XP or earlier. However, there is now a driver for at least the later MD-5000 series printer available that supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. Street prices for used MD-5000 and MD-5500 printers are from $750 on up.

If this were a viable printer (i.e. Drivers and printing supplies available) with a price tag of under $500, I would buy it. But it isn’t. With the diminishing supply of printer ribbons, these printers will not be around much longer. I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long. Several commercial “cottage industry” decal manufacturers who depended on the ALPS printer have already closed shop, which is a shame, as the artwork would still be useful.

This got me investigating alternatives:

1. Okidata Laser Printer: Okidata makes a couple of laser printers that print white targeted at the textile industry – T-shirt printers. The Oki 711WT and proColor pro920WT. These printers are meant to print textile transfers, and I haven’t been able to find any information on how suitable these printers would be for waterslide decal production. Street price for the 711WT is about $3,400, and about $7,500 for the pro920WT. This is well beyond what I can afford as a hobbiest, and I haven’t done a business case analysis to see if something like this would be economically feasible as a startup business, even if I had  the time to dedicate to such a business.

2. Converted laser printers: Automatic Transfers, Inc. offers several color laser printers converted to dye sublimation, replacing the black toner cartridge with white. The normal Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow toner cartridges have to be replaced with dye sublimation toner in order to overprint the white toner. Prices are on their web site.

3. Dry Transfer from laser printers: DecalPro® FX is an interesting concept, using a colored film (including white!) to bond to the toner using a laminator. At the end, only the foil (with the black toner underneath) is applied to the model. No decal film! However, white is the thickest film they have available, and it may have to be “doubled up” to be truly opaque. Aside from the laminator and a heat gun, prices seem relatively inexpensive compared to the above choices.

4. White Embossing Powder: This was a tough to find tip. It had elluded me for several months, but I found mention of it on an aircraft modeler forum, and have been intrigued enough to give this a try. Embossing powder is used in craft projects, such as card-making. Paper is stamped with some sort of adhesive. Then the powder is sprinkled on. Heat from a heat gun is then used to dry the adhesive, and set the embossing powder. The loose powder (that wasn’t bonded with the stamped adhesive) can be collected revealing the desired pattern in the desired color.

That works for handmade greeting cards, but how about our models? Well, theory is that you print your decal paper with an inkjet printer. Since the decal paper doesn’t absorb the ink, the ink will stay wet for some time. Long enough that you can sprinkle the embossing powder on the decal paper, and the wet ink will grab onto the embossing powder. Heat the decal paper with a heat gun, and the embossing powder bonds to the decal. Remove the excess embossing powder (if the heat gun hasn’t blown it off already), and seal with clear acrylic. Testor’s makes a suitable spray, although I’ll be trying this with Tamiya gloss clear acrylic. I’m much better with an airbrush than a spray can.

I’ve got the decal paper and the clear. My embossing powder should arrive next week. I’ll give this last option a try and report back in part 2. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try the DecalPro® FX option.

Wish me luck!

A Spindle Brake for the Mini Mill

Spindle Brake
A while back, I noticed that if I had a Dial Test Indicator (DTI) in my mill, usually to check alignment of a vise, the reading could be off if the spindle moved even slightly. I needed a way to lock the spindle. There are plenty of spindle locks for the Sieg X2 (sold by Harbor Freight Tools, Grizzly Industrial, Inc., and others), but that mill has a slightly different head owing to it’s gear drive vs. the belt drive (and higher torque motor) on the Sieg SX2 (sold by Little Machine Shop, Micro-Mark, and others). No spindle lock was available for the SX-2. I thought of making my own, but…

Little Machine Shop recently started carrying a Spindle Brake for the Sieg SX-2 mill. Made by Preist Tools, Inc, this is a wonderful addition to my mill, securing the spindle. Most people will use this when tightening the collets, but this will really help with accuracy ensuring the vice or part being machined is properly oriented on the mill’s table.

About the only negative is you can do some serious damage if power is applied when the pin securing the spindle is engaged. Update: It was inevitable. I accidently turned on the mill with the spindle brake on, and no damage occuredd. There is another model that includes a safety switch, but it’s more than twice as expensive, and the bottom surface isn’t flat. I need a flat bottom to attach my LED spindle light, and I can live without the interlock, so this is the unit for me.

In short: highly recommended upgrade for those of you with the Sieg SX2.

Atlantic Coast Line Steam Locomotive 1504

Atlantic Coast Line 1504
In 1906, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was empowered by congress to set maximum shipping rates, in an effort to curb what the public (or rather, the shippers) considered price gouging. The reality is this was a period of economic inflation, and, hamstrung, railroads had a tough time meeting rising costs. By late 1915, 1/6th of all railroad trackage belonged to railroads in receivership. That is, the railroads were bankrupt, yet allowed to continue to operate under strict financial controls as they reorganized. This was exacerbated in 1916 by the threat of a strike, with railroad workers seeking shorter days. To avert the strike, Woodrow Wilson signed the Adamson Act, shortening the work day to 8 hours.

Although World War I started in 1914, the United States did not enter the war until April 6, 1917, after the British showed the US an intercepted coded telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to Germany’s ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt promising US land to Mexico if they joined the war. This telegram is known as the Zimmerman Telegram.

As you can imagine, US Railroads were not in a position to fully support this new war effort, resulting in heavy delays, so the ICC recommended nationalization of the nations railroads under the auspecies of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA). Among the changes the USRA implemented were standard designs for locomotives and rolling stock.

The USRA designs utilized mostly state-of-the-art designs, commensurate with the material shortages common during any war. The designs were so modern, that even after USRA control ended in 1920, railroads continued to order copies of the designs, applying evolutionary changes to keep the design current.

Among the original USRA locomotives were a series of Light Pacifics for passenger duty. The Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) received 45 of these locomotives, classed P-5-A, and went on to order an additional 25 copies. This brings us to ACL 1504, one of the original USRA Light Pacifics.

ACL president Champion Davis wanted a locomotive on display in front of the new ACL General Office Building on the banks of the St. John’s River in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. He and John W. Hawthorne, head of the ACL Mechanical Department, selected 1504 as the best candidate among remaining steam locomotives. In 1960, after being in storage since her retirement in 1952, the engine was given a thorough mechanical overhaul and placed on display in front of the then new ACL General Office Building in Jacksonville.

The locomotive stood proudly there until 1986, when the locomotive was moved to its current location in the parking lot of the Prime Osborne convention center, the former Jacksonville Union Terminal.

ACL 1504 Move.mpg

In October, 1990, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated her an Engineering Landmark. However, ACL 1504 now tops the National Railway Historical Society‘s list of Top Eight Endangered U.S. Railroad Landmarks.

So how bad is it? Last night, I attended a meeting of the North Florida Chapter NRHS. ACL 1504 had been surveyed in July to determine the extent of the damage resulting from unprotected storage for all these years, and the recommended remediation to preserve and protect this important landmark. Mark Frazier provided the following report:

Atlantic Coast Line Steam Locomotive 1504

Named the NRHS most endangered Railroad Landmark in the Nation

1)       Events leading up to the inspection

  1. NRHS Announces Top Eight Endangered U.S. Railroad Landmarks

i.      Widely considered one of the Southeast’s most important railroad resrouces, no. 1504 represents the plight of park locomotives accross the nation left exposed to the elements, whose maintenance needs outpace the allotted resources.

ii.      It has been on display outdoors for over 50 years and is rapidly deteriorating

  1. Strategy meeting

i.      Inspection date set ffor July 13, 2013

ii.      North Florida NRHS agreed to be the agency for receiving and dispersing funding.

2)      July 13, 2013 inspection of 1504

  1. Inspectors

i.      Jay Boggs

ii.      Steve Arrington

iii.      Mark Frazier

  1. General appearance

i.      The display is in a place where few people see it.

ii.      The grey paint has faded and flattened out from the exposure to the elements. (When at display in front of the ACL building, and when first moved too the Prime Osborn center, the locomotive was painted black. I’m not sure when the locomotive was painted grey).

iii.      The locomotive is complete with all the “jewelry” (headlight, bell, whistle, safety valves, number boards, builder plates, marker lights and gauges all still on the locomotive).

iv.      Security is almost nonexistent depending on video surveillance from in the Prime Osborn Center.

  1. Visual inspection, reading the artifact

i.      Access t the display is from the rear and inspection started at the tender from ground level.

  1. Wheels and trucks
    1. all 4 wheel sets have rim stamped wheels solid bearings and the rear wheel set has been welded to the rail. These things render them unserviceable. Journal boxes have been opened left exposed to  the weather at times and filled with rocks.
    2. The trucks have bolted side frames and would not be suitable for service.
    3. Tender cistern and coal bunker
      1. The cistern has suffered much corrosion and decay from the inside out. There are holes in the bottom top and sides, in the bottom near  the rear truck one is larger than a football. The top has 2 large holes at the rear of the bunker. The lower parts of the sides also have evidence of the same decay with several patches that indicate this was an issue while the locomotive was still in service.
      2. Cistern hatch doors are welded shut.
      3. The coal bunker still has the coal pusher and stoker auger in place but both have been exposed to the elements for over 50 years.
      4. The frame of the  tender, draft gear and brake system appear to be in good condition with no major problems or defects visible.
      5. The locomotive cab
        1. The cab is currently not secured in the past it was with locking Plexiglas doors.
        2. All guages and cotrols are intact
        3. The cab itself is in good condition lined with oak boards
        4. Cab windows have rotted and need to be replaced.
        5. Firebox interior
          1. Inspection completed by Jay Boggs
          2. Grates, sheets, and firebrick indicate that there has not been a fire in the firebox after shop work was last completed.
          3. There are no signs of water entry through the flues.
          4. All flues, tubes and super heaters are still in place.
          5. Hammer test detected no broken stay-bolts or scale dropping from the water side of the inner firebox sheets.
          6. Firebox exterior
            1. Visible areas of  the sheets show no signs of pitting or other corrosion or decay.
            2. All flexible stay-bolt caps are intact and in very good condition
            3. Rigid stay bolts that are visible also appear to be new
            4. Boiler Jacketing
              1. Boiler jacket is in sections pop-riveted together with signs of rust at the joints indicating water entry at these seams.
              2. The bottom side of the jacket has decayed and rusted through allowing it to drop down.
              3. It appears that the current jacket was a replacement after an asbestos abatement was performed in the early to mid-1980s.
              4. Looking through openings in the jacket the boiler shell is painted and shows little signs of rust.
              5. The jacket is spaced away from the boiler with spacer blocks.
              6. At this point the jacket is providing protection to the boiler from the elements.
            5. Plumbing and appliances
              1. All steam, water, air and sand pipes are stil in place and connected
              2. All appliances such as compressors, stocker motor, turbo-generator, injectors safety valves, whistle, bell, headlight, marker lights, lubricator and sanders are still on the locomotive and are complete.
            6. Smokebox
              1. Access through the smokebox door was not possible on July 13.
              2. The fireman’s side inspection plate was able to be removed to allow visual inspection behind the netting.
              3. There were signs of moisture entry into the smokebox.
              4. The stack is capped however it is unkown when the cap was placed on the stack. Moisture entry may have been through an ucapped stack at one time.
            7. Cylinders, saddle, valves and rods
              1. The biggest notable thing about this part of the locomotive are the plates installed on the back side of the crosshead preventing movement of the rods, pistons, and drivers.
              2. The cylinder saddle has reinforcement rods added around the valve chest.
              3. The rods and valve gear have machine tool marks still on them indicating little to no wear on them since the locomotive was last shopped.
            8. Locomotive wheels and running gear
              1. Access under the locomotive and between the frames was not possible on July 13 due to weather conditions; therefore inspection was from the outside only.
              2. All the locomotive wheels and tires appear to be in very good condition and still show tool mars from being turned in a wheel lathe.
              3. All of the axles are riding on solid bearings ith only the trailing truck having the bearings on the out end of the axle.
              4. Most of  the leaf springs appear to be in good condition however there were a couple of leaf tat did show some rust damage between the leaves.
              5. The trailing truck has had some modifications done that did look questionable and will need further evaluation.

3)      Over evaluation and grading

  1. Locomotive overall grade B+

i.      1504 for a display locomotive is in very good condition and is 99% complete

ii.      The appearance of the locomotive is not looking good to the general public due to the faded dull grey paint and the rust staining and streaking from the rust under the jacket seams

iii.      Mechanically it appears that 1504 has never run since a total rebuild.

  1. Tender overall grade D-

i.      The tender wheels, trucks and tank are beyond saving for any future use and only basic cosmetic repair should be considered.

ii.      The tender frame and draft gear appear to be usagle as a good base for a rebuilt tender if ever needed.

4)      Recommendations

  1. Set up one group or organization to oversee the 1504 in the future

i.      Come to an agreement with the City of Jacksonville for future control of the locomotive either through a lease or purchase

ii.      Establish an ACL 1504 brand

iii.      Plan what the future of the locomotive will be

iv.      These steps will take time and need to become the foundation for the future. This is not something that should be done in a rush and may take several months.

  1. Cosmetic work yet this fall

i.      Secure the bottom of the jacket back toether and pull it back into place.

ii.      Seal seams in the jacket.

iii.      Paint the entire locomotive and tender

iv.      Cosmetic work to tender only

  1. Remove loose rust.
  2. Stabilize rusted areas.
  3. Rill holes with sheet metal where necessary and smooth with body filler
  4. Paint and letter entire tender

v.      Secure cab.

  1. Make and install new cab windows
  2. Remove cloudy Plexigrall from between locomotive and tender
  3. Install see through barrier across  the rear of the cab that will keep cab area secure but still visible.

vi.      Consider that all work done this fall is for 3-5 years and is only stabilization move till the next phase can be planned.

5)      Final summary, the overall condition of the ACL 1504 and its historic significance indicate that this is not a locomotive that should be neglected in a parking lot on display. Therefore immediate stabilization measures should be taken as soon as possible. Long term planning for the future should also begin now. These plans should include taking necessary steps that would continue to prepare the locomotive for possible restoration to operation if the opportunity would present itself. This would include not doing damage to the locomotive or building obstacles in the way of any future restorations.

In recent years we have seen locomotives steaming that were to never steam again and are running under steam on railroads that said they would never run on. Union Pacific has recently announced the ultimate restoration of a Big Boy Locomotive something we  were told for years would never happen. It comes down to that never comes much sooner than many think it will and we must never give up.

This report was prepared with the assistance of Diversified Rail Services who also have done an inspection of 1504 and deemed the 1504 a rebuild able locomotive. They will also make themselves available in the future as contractors for 1504.


AC4400CW Detail Parts Arrive

2013-09-09_D300_8926-eLook what the postman brought today from Toy Train Heaven! Detail parts for my AC4400CW!

I mostly followed the recommendations on the Details West web site:

  • 1 Detail Associates HO Grille Set Dash 9 Athearn, LIST PRICE $7.5  PN:229-2724 @ $7.50 each (Note 1)
  • 1 Details West HO Detail Kit -9 SP CSX CP, LIST PRICE $15.95  PN:235-230 @ $13.56 each
  • 1 Details West HO Numberboards Dash 7,8,9, LIST PRICE $1.35  PN:235-249 @ $1.35 each
  • 1 Details West HO Fuel fillers/gauges set, LIST PRICE $2.95  PN:235-258 @ $2.95 each
  • 1 Details West HO Bronze Etched Walkway Detail, LIST PRICE $5.95  PN:235-270 @ $5.95 each
  • 1 Details West HO Sinclair Antenna Long 2/, LIST PRICE $1  PN:235-274 @ $1.00 each
  • 1 Details West HO Sinclair Antenna Short 4/, LIST PRICE $1.25  PN:235-275 @ $1.25 each
  • 1 Details West HO Air hose loco w/brckt  2/, LIST PRICE $1.25  PN:235-267 @ $1.25 each
  • 1 Details West HO MU Hose 3 cluster      4/, LIST PRICE $3.5  PN:235-266 @ $3.50 each
  • 1 Details West HO Piping & bracket right set, LIST PRICE $2.95  PN:235-259 @ $2.95 each
  • 1 Details West HO MU cable w/dbl ended recp, LIST PRICE $2.15  PN:235-236 @ $2.15 each
  • 1 Details West HO Ditch lights w/platforms, LIST PRICE $3.5  PN:235-243 @ $3.50 each
  • 1 Cal Scale HO Nathan P3 2 bells forward 1 back , LIST PRICE $3.9  PN:190-543 @ $3.90 each (Note 2)
  • 1 Details West HO Knuckle holder GP50&60, LIST PRICE $1.75  PN:235-210 @ $1.75 each (Note 3)

How does my list differ from the Details West web site?

Note 1: As you’ve seen from my previous posts, the upper radiator screens need some serious help. Let’s hope  this fixes it.

Note 2: The Details West Nathen P-3 three chime horn has the low tone (longest bell) on the engineer’s (right hand) side. As near as I can tell, all Southern Pacific AC4400CWs have the low tone horn on the engineer’s side. Call Scale does it right.

Note 3: The rear pilot of the AC4400CW has a spare knuckle holder on each side. Here is a photo of the back end of SP 105 taken by Jim Bryant, and another of SP 101 taken by Rob Sarberenyi hosted on the fabulous “my ESPEE MODELERS ARCHIVE” web page.

SP AC4400CW Redux


Well, cutting in the Kato radiators into the Athearn shell isn’t so simple. Front to back length of the Athearn radiator section is just shy of 2″ – 1.9995″ by my calipers. That’s painted. Kato’s radiators are 2.037″ long. I measure the Athearn radiator at 1.365″ wide vs. Kato at 1.364″ wide, so that’s probably correct once you subtract paint thickness from two sides.

I think I’m going to have to use the Details West and Details Associates parts to make the best of the Athearn body. I don’t see an easy way to stretch the radiator area 0.037″ without damaging roof detail, nor is there an easy way to shorten the Kato radiator to fit without loss of critical detail.


Now that the Atlas cab came, I can do some comparison. Length of the nose – measured from the center window support to the flat of the front on the nose:

Athearn “Ready to Run” AC4400CW cab: 0.475″
Atlas Dash 8-40BW cab: 0.533″
Kato AC4400CW cab: 0.535″
My stretched Athearn Bue Box AC4400CW cab (per Clyde King’s technique): 0.535″

Frankly, I’m surprised the stretched Blue Box cab came out so well. The Athearn cab seems to be a full 0.060″ too short. I would think that the saw kerf would have shortened the nose somewhat less than the 0.060″ styrene I inserted, but it looks like it came out just right.

The Atlas cab will take a lot of work. There’s no cab sub-base, which will have to come from the Athearn or Kato cab. I’ll have to add a front door to the nose, but that’s available as a detail part. The back window on the fireman’s side needs to be shortened in order to clear the inverter cabinet. All in all, Clyde King’s method of extending the nose is a lot less work.

The Athearn cab was not reworked as part of the “upgrade” in China. The old Blue Box cab has the same texture on the roof that the Ready to Run model has. It just doesn’t show up in photographs of  the bare plastic.

More on the Kato AC4400CW:

Researching the Kato AC4400CW, there’s an early and a late version of the shell. This had troubled me, because I believe the original run of the Kato AC4400CW predates the inverter cabinet change. Well, the early version was produced with the same style inverter cabinet as used by the SP (and the Athearn model). So why not use it? Well, first off, it’s not currently available, and secondly, as near as I can tell, it was only offered with the number boards in  the nose instead of above the cab windows. The “deal killer” is the equipment blower filter box air intake. The intake grill and X-panel are reversed from the orientation on the Southern Pacific and Athearn models. So if you come across the earlier Kato locomotive on eBay or at a swap meet, and the orientation of the intake grill and X-panel on the equipment blower filter box air intake aren’t important (or less of a compromise than all the other work), then it might be a viable model for you.

SP AC4400CW Radiators

SP 340 Radiator courtesy John MosbargerThe real deal: Southern Pacific #340 courtesy John Mosbarger. Click on image to enlarge.

Special thanks to John Mosbarger for allowing me to use his photo showing the radiator details for SP 340. To recap, let’s compare this to the Athearn and Kato HO models:

2013-08-10_D300_8759-eAthearn’s AC4400CW radiator grills.

2013-08-10_D300_8775-eKato AC4400CW radiator grills.

I think it should be obvious why I’m so disappointed in the Athearn tooling here. I’m not sure if changing the Athearn model is the way to go (sacrificing a $45 Kato shell just to get the radiator section). On the other hand, I now have the Kato AC4400CW shell, and it seems to be a lot more work to get the Kato AC4400CW(-CTE?) to represent the earlier Southern Pacific prototype.

I’m still waiting on the Atlas radiator section and cab from the Dash 8-40BW model, but upon further review, the radiator section is not usable. It has 6 smaller radiator sections instead of 4 larger ones, and is missing the panel to the rear of the radiator grills:

Atlas Dash 8-40B and Dash 8-40BW Radiator

Atlas Dash 8-40B and Dash 8-40BW radiator grills

I also need to revisit the Details Associates 2724 grills with the Details West DS-270 etched bronze walkway panels, trying to improve upon what I did back in 2004:

Athearn “Blue Box” AC4400CW with Details Associates 2724 grills and Details West DS-273 etched bronze walkway panels.

While the Kato looks the nicest, It’s an expensive option, and I’ll need some consistency if I do any more AC4400CWs or Dash 9-44CWs

By the way, take some time to visit John’s site on the Southern Pacific Shasta route, “The road of a thousand wonders!”

The Southern Pacific AC4400CW

Southern Pacific’s final and largest order for diesel locomotives was for it’s fleet of AC4400CWs from General Electric. 279 locomotives, numbered #100 to #378, were purchased for delivery in 1995. There was a follow on order for 3 AC6000CWs, but the merger with Union Pacific intervened. Some say UP took the order, but according to Southern Pacific Diesel Locomotive Compendium, Vol. 2: Post-1965 SP and Cotton Belt Numbers, Union Pacific Transition by Joseph A. Strapac, the order was canceled.

Although constructed in a relatively short timeframe, there are some important differences in the locomotives produced:

1. The first 100, #100 – #199, lacked Locotrol radio control equipment. The rest, #200 – #378 had master/slave Locotrol, for use as Designated Power (DP), a modern form of helper operation. This manifest itself with extra radio antennas on the roof. 2 for #100 – #199 (voice communication and End of Train (EOT) monitoring), and 4 for #200 – #378 (2 additional antennas for the Locotrol). A key feature of DP is that a locomotive can switch between being a “master” or “slave,” and doesn’t need to be a dedicated “master” or “slave” as the older Locotrol units are (the #8300 series SD40T-2 snoots and the 4 GP40Xs, for instance).

2. Initially, #100 – about #300 were equipped with 4 snubbers on each truck, mounted externally to first and last axle. GE did some testing and decided it didn’t need the snubbers on both sides. The higher numbered units were built without the snubbers on the Fireman’s side front truck, and Engineer’s side rear truck were eliminated. This was retroactively applied (removing the snubbers) on earlier units built with all 4 snubbers per axle, leaving the mounting brackets in place.

3. Later units (approximately #302 and higher) were equiped with an extra box behind the inverter cabinet.

Athearn produced the first plastic model back in the early 1990s that retailed for $32.50 and built in the US. Details were typically bare for the time, but Details West produced many detail parts specifically for this model. This is known as a “Blue Box” Athearn because it arrived in a blue box, and required some assembly. This consisted of assembling steel handrails to metal stanchions, and pressing them into appropriate holes in the body. The locomotive was equiped with the X2F “Horn Hook” coupler that everyone hated.

A fundemental problem with this model is the too short nose. Clyde King has suggested cutting the nose and splicing 0.060″ styrene to lengthen it. However, with the beveled sides, this requires some ingenious body work.

Athearn AC4400CW Cab extension

The model also had relatively crude radiator grills, but, again, Details West offered parts that addressed this issue.

Note the smooth cab roof of the original “blue box” AC4400CW. Athearn retooled the cab roof in order to add the (prototypically correct) roof pattern, but failed to retool the length of the nose!


Athearn AC4400C cab retooled with pattern on roof. Small antenna is for End of Train (EOT) device monitoring. Large Sinclair antenna is for voice communications. Note grab irons added to nose!

Kato soon introduced it’s own AC4400CW in HO, but the model included trucks that were only suitable for early Chicago Northwestern prototypes. About 2004, Kato revised the model with later Hi-Ad trucks, similar to Athearn and as used by Southern Pacific. The problem was that the snubbers and brake cylinders were molded on rather than separate pieces, so they look a bit clunky close up.

Coming back to Athearn, in 2003, Athearn released the AC4400CW as part of its Ready to Roll (RTR) line. Production had moved to China, and with it, more roadname-specific details were added, paint was upgraded including many more safety decals omitted from the original blue box paint, and fine/flimsey plastic handrails were installed. Plastic McHenry couplers, clones of the Kadee couplers everyone likes, are now standard. The short nose and crude radiator grills remain.

I bought a recent run Athearn RTR line AC4400CW as #136. I had high hopes that Athearn might have done something to address at least the cab length issue, but alas, it’s the same old $32.50 locomotive gussied up in the Chinese factory and a $119.95 price tag.

After getting over the initial disappointment, it was time to decide how to build a better AC4400CW. I should note that most of the model is outstanding. It’s just that when it comes to the cab and the upper radiator grill work, it’s like two different model makers built the dies.


Fireman’s side, Athearn AC4400CW (click on image to enlarge)

The inverter doors behind the cab are accurate for a Southern Pacific model. The lack of the extra box behind the inverter box is accurate for locomotives #100 to about #302, although the box is available from Details West for later AC4400CWs in the order. The trucks are interesting. On the rear, you see the snubbers as they should be. On the front, the snubbers are missing as modified (see above), but the top bracket should remain, and thus is missing. I believe this is an error, but the short nose on the cab is a bigger “miss.”

So the first question I had was “what about the Kato?” Lets look at the shell, same angle as above:


Fireman’s side, Kato AC4400CW (click on image to enlarge)

The nose is much better. See how much closer it is to the stepwell? But there are other problems. Instead of the doors on the inverter cabinet, we have an array of “X panels.” That might be correct for a later AC4400CW (possibly UP AC4400CW-CTE #5700 – #5900 – CTE standing for Computerized Tractive Effort), but not any of Southern Pacific’s. The change from access doors to access panels may also reflect  a change in inverter type (from GTO to IGBT – click here for a discussion). That would be tough to correct. Perhaps filing and/or sanding off the access panels, and fabricating doors from 0.005″ styrene.

Compare the equipment blower filter box air intake – the farthest back part of the raised hood “box” behind the cab, and in front of the horn. The grill and the “X-panel” are reversed. Again, this might be correct for a later AC4400CW (again, possibly the AC4400CW-CTE ), but not any of Southern Pacific’s. It’s another tough modification, as there are no “X panels” or grills available as aftermarket parts.

This also has the extra box behind the inverter cabinet, but it is a separate piece and removable. This is accurate for later SP AC4400CWs, ~#302 and higher.

Things are similar on the other side, in the auxiliary cab (dynamic brake portion of the hood, behind the cab on the engineer’s side). Here’s the Athearn:


Engineer’s side of cab and dynamic brake portion of hood. Athearn AC4400CW (click on image to enlarge)

and here’s the Kato:


Engineers side of cab and dynamic brake section of hood, Kato AC4400CW (click on image to enlarge)

Again, the Athearn shell matches the Southern Pacific AC4400CWs, and the Kato is for something else (possibly an AC4400CW-CTE, as mentioned above). “X panel” access panels replace doors.

Now lets compare the top radiator grills. This, to me, is an important detail, as we look at our models from above a lot. Here’s the Athearn:


Upper radiator grill, Athearn AC4400CW. Note splice and frame around edges. (click on image to enlarge)

And let’s compare to the Kato:


Upper radiator grill, Kato AC4400CW. Note lack of frame around edges. This is more prototypical, and the grill work is much more detailed. (click on image to enlarge)

There is so much more detail on the Kato, and look at the periphery! The detail on the Kato goes right to the edge.

Another difference is the front door on the cab. Athearn, like the Southern Pacific, has a window in the access door. Kato does not, but Details West has a part to fix that.

I’d love to graft the parts Kato did better onto the Athearn. The Kato cab and radiator grills are so much better than Athearns! There’s another option to consider, and that’s grafting the Atlas Dash 8-40BW parts onto the Athearn AC4400CW. I’ll have more to say about that when the Atlas parts arrive.

Special thanks to Sean Graham-White and Mike Johannessen for research assistance and corrections to the original article.

Zorin OS 6.2

Zorin OS 6.2 Desktop

Anna’s laptop was nearly useless. Choked up and bogged down. Virus could not be found, no malware, and I scrubbed the registry with CCleaner. After 5 hours of troubleshooting­, I threw in the towel. Instead of reloading Windows 7, I’m trying Zorin OS 6.2 – a Linux based on Ubuntu that has the closest “look and feel” to Windows 7. So far, she’s loving it. It can also be easily changed to Mac OS X look, or one of the many Linux desktops. I’m impressed. Her computer is flyin’! Toshiba laptops are supposed to be hard to Linux-ize, but we don’t seem to have any problem whatsoever. Keeping fingers crossed.

Ready To Run

“I am a steadfast believer in the increased quality of life that comes from creating something by hand. While buying ‘stuff’ may give a short term high, much like a candy bar buzz, it quickly wears off leaving you where you started. The satisfaction that comes from creating something, however, is long lasting and therapeutic.” – Lance Mindheim

My good friend Harry Wong is building a relatively simple shelf layout. Encouraging me to do the same, Harry’s turned me onto the Lance Mindheim’s blog. For those not familiar, Lance is a commercial model railroad layout designer and builder, and has written many articles and books on layout design and construction.

This quote from his blog really grabbed my attention. While the context was in regard to layout design and structure selection, it really strikes a chord with me with the proliferation of Ready-To-Run rolling stock we have today, and the lack of kits. I have a saying I use when speaking to Athearn and Intermountain regarding the demise of kits in our hobby:

“You’re letting the Chinese have all the fun!”

It seems that if you want to be a model builder, your best bet is to move to China, and work for one of the manufacturers. “Our industry is currently tied to Chinese production, as southern China has developed the special skill set required to produce model trains.” (Jason Shron, President, Rapido Trains) If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

But I buck the trend. To Intermountain’s credit, they do offer kits. They’re just hard to find. Most hobby shops deal with Walthers as their distributor. Most have reluctantly included Horizon Hobbies to continue to offer Athearn products (which is distributed only by Horizon, thier owner). But Intermountain has become a distributor of sorts as well, selling Tichy, Red Caboose, and others, and is no longer using Walthers as a distributor. They didn’t just cut out the middle man – they replaced him! You have to order direct, and they don’t have an on-line store. You have to order the old-fashioned way – by phone.

But it’s the theraputic element that Lance explains that appeals to me. I guess I could just as well be a model airplane or model car guy, but trains appeal to me more, and always have. It’s just that the opportunities to actually build models is evaporating, and for that, yes, I’m a little bitter. Comparing a R-T-R models to a candy bar makes a lot of sense. High cost, low nutritional value, encourages lazy eating habbits, and malnourishment. Is that really were we want our hobby headed?

Back to my workbench – I obviously need the therapy.